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Lab Shut for Misdiagnoses Also Served Out-of-State Clients : Nationwide Alert Planned for Pap Smear Tests

June 29, 1989|JOHN JOHNSON | Times Staff Writer

California health officials said Tuesday that they will issue an advisory to warn health officers nationwide that a Tarzana medical laboratory accused of misdiagnosing medical tests may have done business in their states.

Department of Health Services spokesman Norm Hartman said the advisory will warn that the laboratory, Central Pathology Services Medical Group, misdiagnosed 21% of a random selection of Pap smear tests and was shut down in April. He said the notice will be issued through the National Public Health Information Coalition, which represents public health officers in 42 states.

"We want to alert everybody this is going on," Hartman said. He was unsure how many states that the laboratory had served, but said he believed that it handled tests from Washington, Indiana, Arizona and Illinois, among others.

"Quite a lot of business came from out of state," he said. "Thirty to 40% of the obstetricians and gynecologists in Chicago were sending their business to this lab."

Unaware of Role

Hartman said he is concerned that doctors in distant cities may be unaware of what has happened in California, even though their patients' tests may have been sent to Tarzana.

A spokesman for the lab, Martin Cooper, said it "is an inaccurate perception that a significant amount of business out of this lab came from out of state." He also said the lab's affiliate, Central Diagnostic Laboratory, is not doing any Pap tests. Those tests are now being sent to Pennsylvania, he said.

Central Pathology processed about 2,600 Pap tests--used to detect cervical cancer--each day. But after errors were detected by federal authorities early this year, the lab first lost its authority to participate in Medi-Cal and Medicare health insurance programs, then closed its doors under pressure from the state.

The state sued Central Diagnostic and Central Pathology in May, along with four other defendants, for $3 million and asked for a court order requiring the firms to do free Pap tests for millions of women who it had screened during the last five years.

Sent Letters

Central Diagnostic responded by sending letters to 15,000 physicians advising that the rescreening is available for patients who want it.

But Hartman said he is concerned that those letters may not go far enough. He said Central Diagnostic reported the results of the tests performed by Central Pathology. Doctors, therefore, might not be aware that the Pap smear they sent out for analysis was reviewed by Central Pathology, Hartman said.

Cooper responded that the letters sent out by the lab do not hide Central Pathology's role. "Their own attorney approved the letter," he said of state health officials. "They would be wise to check that fact."

The advisory will be forwarded to the 41 other members of the coalition through the federal Centers for Disease Control, based in Atlanta. Hartman said the advisory is the first issue of concern to be addressed by the coalition since it was formed earlier this year.

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